The Irregular at Magic High School – In Hindsight The Title Should Have Been My First Clue

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  • Genre: Action, drama, urban fantasy, school, romance, meh
  • Episodes: 26
  • Studio: MADHOUSE

Summary: There’s something up with Tatsuya Shiba. He’s too perfect. He was supposed to be a second-course student. You know: unimpressive. Yet he consistently succeeds not only where his fellow first-class students fail but where most ordinary men would as well. It’s almost like he has some type of secret superpower. Yet he is nice to everyone, knows exactly how to mediate tense situations and makes admirers wherever he goes. If there’s anyone who doesn’t like Shiba, you can bet that they’re simply. And there’s certainly a whole lot to be jealous about. It’s actually a good thing there are young people like Shiba around though. Since the end of the last great war, peace has been unsteady and Japan needs all the powerful magicians it can get. Why not a nice, well-mannered boy like Shiba. Still, he is a little off… And don’t even get me started about the relationship with his sister!

The Irregular at Magic High School is one of those shows I sort of always knew about but never actually knew any of the details. I think I have always seen screencaps and fan art floating around and I was familiar with the title but beyond the fact that there was likely to be a magic school involved on some level, I had no idea what it was about. I also had no idea of public opinion but assumed it was popular enough since I had managed to hear about so consistently despite making no effort to learn anything. With the announcement of a new season just around the corner, I figure it was a good time to finally watch the series.

I haven’t even started yet….

Had I bothered to learn a bit more, maybe I would have moderated my expectations a little. As it is, I went into it close to blind and this is what I found.

In all respects, I would say The Irregular at Magic High School is a technically decent anime. It’s not exceptional in any respect but it’s not particularly subpar either. The art style isn’t exactly my thing but I wouldn’t call it ugly. I could see someone drooling over the character designs. Although there are some inconsistencies, the art remains fairly nice throughout.

On the other hand, the animation is less impressive. There are a lot of still shots used and even in scenes that would require dynamic movement, the animation is often sluggish. For example, the climactic scene of the second arc has two of the main characters battling it out in a mock gun battle tournament. They are both physical fighters and adept athletes. And yet the scene just them both walking slowly towards each other in a straight line with no obstacles in the way and occasionally shooting their gun straight ahead. I actually started laughing. The narrative sort of explains this strategy although not entirely but honestly this scene was screaming out for action. And there are many little moments like that. It’s like the anime is just a little, slow.

it can be very pretty

I’m making it sound worse than it is. In fact, there are a lot of high action scenes and those are great to look at. It’s just that considering that this is a tense action series, or at least it should be, these scenes are surprisingly few and far between.

The first season is divided into three arcs. In fact, every arc had its own title: Enrollment, Nine School Competition and Yokohama Disturbance with every episode receiving its own part number.I’m telling you this because it’s going to be relevant later. Trust me!

In essence, I would describe The Irregular at Magic High School as a mashup of Harry Potter and James Bond with the silences filled in with Star Trek style technobabble. For the record, that sounds pretty good to me. And it is. On paper, The Irregular at Magic High School is a pretty good story. It’s plot-driven so the characters are a bit superficial but they are all individual and have enough quirks to make them memorable.

full disclosure, I can’t name anyone in this picture

By the end of the third arc, the stakes and action have escalated to full-on armed combat through the city streets with high end experimental military equipment and the fate of world peace hanging in the balance. And it makes sense. There is this continuous political intrigue backstory that naturally ramps up to that point. It all connects back to the alternative history of that universe in which a magic-based world war broke out a few decades earlier and most of the world is still dealing with the aftermath.

Exciting right? WRONG! See the actual problem with The Irregular at Magic High School, at least in my view, is that absolutely everything is presented in the dullest way possible. See the description of a heated gunfight above! The Magic of this universe is augmented through technology so there is a lot of imaginary tech talk. Unlike a lot of people, I love imaginary tech talk. I try to create theoretical blueprints. It’s my thing. But they never properly establish it or give us any similes so that the audience can follow along. Instead, it throws fictional words at you without explaining them and comes up with new concepts not based on anything previously established every time. And there is a lot of this type of talk. It’s mostly gibberish and even once you get enough information to properly establish the basics, it remains pretty boring.

wha…sorry I dozed off for a second there

Likewise, the characters more or less state their emotions and personal traits because getting to know them as you would a real person is just too much to ask for. And the dialogue… I mean I already touched on the technobabble but let me give you another random example. Again during the second arc (it was mu favourite I don’t know why I’m picking on it), the characters are all staying in a large hotel for a school competition. After an event, the main character’s sister comes to visit him in his room. She knocks on the door, comes in and he asks Are you finished with your shower? to which she answers yes and the scene goes on.

There had been no mention of a shower at all in previous scenes, the sister doesn’t have wet hair or any visible change in her appearance, there is no mention of this shower ever again and it’s not even low-grade lewd fantasy material with the brother lingering over the point in a suggestive voice. It’s a plain neutral question answered in a plain neutral tone. And it’s completely pointless. It’s dead information that is neither useful in any way or interesting at all. It lasts less than a second so you may be wondering why I’m going on about it. It’s because it illustrates something. I would say roughly 10% (maybe like 8%) of the dialogue is these types of completely aimless exchanges. They are all less than a second so you never really notice it as one long useless conversation but these tiny exchanges add up and drag down the narrative pace considerably.

it’s not that bad

To me, The Irregular at Magic High School gave me the impression of a series created by someone who is excellent at world-building and just really bad at storytelling. The premise is fine and has some very promising details, the foundations are solid but the presentation is creatively bankrupt. It’s as if I had written this thing.

The title should have really given it away because The Irregular at Magic High School is sort of a dull title. I thought it might be a case of lost in translation. It’s a plain descriptive title and “Magic High School” is what a four-year-old without imagination would call a magic high school. Turns out the school isn’t really called Magic High School, although a lot of the characters do call it that throughout the series, it called First High School. The other schools are called second, third, fourth… In 26 episodes there are only arc titles, episodes don,t get one, and the arc titles just describe the main event in each arc.

If there is one thing I really liked about the series, and it’s often mentioned online, it’s the school uniforms. They are very interesting and elaborate. I have seen it on lists of top anime school uniforms frequently. Personally, I think that putting girls who are hitting puberty in tight white dresses is a little mean but that’s o.k. The thing is, when we do see other schools, we find out that every single school has the exact same uniform in different colours. It seems they used up all their creativity on the first design.

hurrah for nice uniforms!

It’s easy to argue that the universe set up by the series justifies these things but it isn’t integrated well enough into the narrative to be explained away in my opinion. This isn’t some type of dystopia where individuality is frown upon. Not at all. A lot of the main cast stand out. As such, it ends up reading as lazy and unimaginative. At least it did to me.

So in the end, the only true fault I could find to the series is that it bored me. That’s sort of a big deal when it comes to entertainment. Yet I’m still curious about the next season. In the hands of a more creative or ambitious team, I think there is the basis for a really good series here. Or at least for a fun romp of a series. Sadly, season 1 was anything but a fun romp and I ended up speeding through the last arc just to get it over with.

Favourite character : Mikihiko because hot. And also Zhou for the same reason

The worst thing about some people is that when they are not drunk they are sober.  

Suggested drink: a glass of wine

  • Every time anyone says “weed” – take a sip
  • Every time Erika and Leo biker  – just kiss already!
  • Every time the prez intervenes – take a sip
  • Every time Miyuki gets jealous – roll your eyes
  • Every time Shibata is perceptive – take a sip
  • Every time anyone other than Miyuki gets a crush on Tatsuya – take a sip
  • Every time they visit the dojo – yay!
  • Every time we get a course on magical theory – grab a pillow
  • Every time they use a three-letter abbreviation – take a sip
  • Every time Shiba is aaammmaaaaziing – take a sip
  • Every time a student ends up in the hospital and their parents don’t even visit – drink cause it’s sad
  • Every time anyone says “pushions” – take a sip
  • Every time there’s a close-up of Shiba’s eye – take a sip
  • Every time Miyuki says “oni-sama” – take a breath

If you are curious about the show, I suggest my Pinterest board, it will tell you all you need to know!

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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11 Responses

  1. I think that this would make more sense as a video game like the dojo and school can be used to upgrade stats and they could have someone not as OP as Tatsuya in the lead and we’ll be golden but that’s just my personal opinion.

  2. I can’t argue against anything you said about the show. At the same time, there were several things I really enjoyed about it.

    The original OP had great energy (LiSA’s Rising Hope). The original ED, ELISA’s Millenario, was one of those songs that set my imagination free — it was that beautiful.

    I really like your comparison of the show’s technbabble to Star Trek. That explains another part of the show I liked, but since I didn’t review the first season, I really didn’t dig too deeply. So thanks for that!

    Despite some instances where the dialogue was a bit, well, uninspired, there were other places I thought it was great. Remember when Mayumi Saegusa was incredulous after Tatsuya fought Masaki Ichijou? Katsuto Juumonji misunderstood her reaction. He thought she wanted an explanation of Tatsuya’s defense. But no, she was freaked out that Tatsuya had survived Ichijou’s illegal attack!

    The energy in that scene, the voice actors, everything just came together.

    I’m always a sucker for political thrillers, and like you pointed out, the show does a decent job with that.

    And for the most part, I enjoyed the approach the show took to magic.

    Now, the second season, only two episodes in, feels like a different beast. Tatsuya is still Tatsuya and Miyuki is still Miyuki, but they’ve done more showing and less telling. The dialogue feels more crisp, too.

    Oh, and I liked Mikihiko, too. I don’t know if he’s “hot” or not, but his powers stood out from everyone else’s. That was cool.

    • Irina says:

      I’m afraid I remember very little but I didn’t note any dialogue I found interesting. I have to admit I did not particularly like the acting in this show

  3. Sad OldGuy says:

    I was obsessed with the show for longer than I would like to admit. Part of it seems to be that he is always right, which seems appealing at first until you realize the author is using the main character to be the spokesman for his political views. The funniest being that after a world wide disaster everyone’s morals improved and sex work was completely eliminated voluntarily. Also, schools with mixed sexes and magical powers would have no trouble with bullying or drug abuse or cheating or gangs, etc. Hmph.

    • Irina says:

      You clearly gave this show much more thought than I did. I will keep an eye out for those elements when I watch the second season

      • Sad OldGuy says:

        It is the type of world building that you might notice on the sixth reread or rewatch of a Japanese light novel series or adaption: unless there is an EVIL emperor to defeat, nobody tries to replace the default feudalism (or in Irregular the defacto feudalism). I figure that unlike me you have better uses of your time. For that matter, the only series that I have read that actually ends slavery is Realist Hero.

  4. Dawnstorm says:

    I dropped it out of boredom; for once, dropping a show wasn’t hard, but it still took me much too long. I think it was episode 7, and I realised that there would be another cour after this one. I do like the character designs (which includes the uniforms), but I only like them, and they wouldn’t carry me through.

    Here’s the thing: Last season had a Demon Lord anime, whose title I’ve forgotten, which was in many ways like this one. Sure enough there were diminishing returns, but the show had its charm points, like the googy-as-hell parents, and the sudden song intrusions of the fan club (all girls, naturally). Overpowered characters don’t work in a show that takes itself too seriously.

  5. LitaKino says:

    HI IRINA how are you ! Just wanted to say hi first and I love school academy magic anime because I just got a weakness for it. I had always been on the fence with this particular one and reading your thoughts has confirmed my wary towards this series. I agree I do love their uniforms I would so wear it for just going out somewhere !!!

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